Saturday, 28 June 2008

Possibly time for consensual politics

Plenty of column inches in the press and on blogs had been devoted to Gordon Brown yesterday (Friday) because it was 12 months ago that he became Prime Minister. I've blogged about him and his problems a fair bit already so I'm not going to bother to add much here. Really I want to emphasise again that in my opinion the two main parties and to a certain extent the LibDems as well do not have the striking differences in policy that they had in the past. So much attention is paid to what has happened in the last day, the last week, the last month but, being fascinated by history, I like to take a much longer and broader view of events. If we look at the twentieth century as a whole then one of the very significant happenings on the domestic front was our flirtation with socialism. Thinking about such things as the creation of the National Health Service and the advancement of workers rights then the traditional Labour Party has had an enormous impact on life as we know it. But for the majority a mixed economy including some bias toward the perceived benefits of privatisation seems to be the accepted way to go. In fact Margaret Thatcher with such policies as the 'Right to Buy' and selling off of the public utilities effectively stopped a return to the old Labour formula. Following John Major's crushing defeat in 1997 and the start of 'New Labour' with Tony Blair it was obvious that, short of a revolution, the traditional form of Labour was finished.

The situation we have today therefore is one whereby it's increasingly difficult to find that 'clear blue water' separating the parties. It is hardly surprising that Cameron's attacks on the government are concentrating more and more on Brown rather than policies. If, as seems the most likely option, the next general election is in 2010 then Labour will have been in power for 13 years. Regardless of the economic environment many people will be saying "it's about time we gave the other lot a chance". So we shouldn't be surprised if the Tories win purely for that reason, we don't normally expect a party to stay in power indefinitely. Yes I know the Tories were in charge from 1979 to 1977 (18 years) but it could be argued that Kinnock snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in 1992 when memorably Major went round the country on his soapbox.

Our politics works on the adversarial system and I've wondered before whether this is now out of date. Gordon Brown has talked about a "government of all the talents" so rather than the individual parties always trying to beat each other up is there possibly a better way. Looking at the three main parties one can see some very clever people in each but also some who are frankly quite useless. An example to illustrate my thoughts is Vince Cable from the LibDems who is a professional economist and when there is a discussion on money matters is well worth hearing. Yet he is not in a position to put policies into place that might benefit us all. We had this crazy situation didn't we whereby Brown tried some political point scoring when he removed the 10p tax rate and look what happened there; there are still concerns I note among some MPs because approximately 1 million people are losing out even after the panic correction by Darling.

Yes all this slagging off of the other parties might be interesting for political anoraks but is it really helping this country?

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